Mr. Bones

Mr. Bones
Game Name: Mr. Bones
Media: 2 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): SEGA
Developer(s): Zono Incorporated
Genre(s): Platform
Release Date: October 1st 1996
Serial Number: MK81016-50
Region: PAL

Mr. Bones Screenshot

Mr. Bones is one of those games that is like no other. While a slight majority of the levels are platform jumping at least at a basic level, even as a platform jumper, the experience Mr. Bones offers is unique. Add on a crazy yet compelling story concept and a bunch of levels which go outside the platforming genre, sometimes into outright bizarre gameplay styles, and you have a game that will raise eyebrows.

The concept is more than quirky enough for the world of platformers: Hoping to purify the world with evil, the insane DaGoulian revives the dead with the power of “skeletism”, forming an undead army. But a 19th century man from the rural southern USA is pure of heart enough that he is revived not with the evil of red skeletism, but blue skeletism. Adopting the name Mr. Bones, he quickly proves to be the hitch in DaGoulian’s plans.

Mr. Bones places a lot of focus on storyline – certainly not the norm for platformers of its era. A number of FMV cutscenes pop up between levels, occasionally augmented by live actors. The story is a delightful fantasy romp with a terrific hero-villain dynamic. The affable, purehearted Mr.Bones and the obsessive, mad philosopher DaGoulian make the perfect foils for each other, and it doesn’t hurt that the actors playing them deliver first-rate performances. Bones is a hero you genuinely root for, and DaGoulian’s misguided rhetoric is almost hypnotic.

Mr. Bones FMV ScreenshotThe humor is spot-on as well, and some bits are simply entertaining for undefinable reasons, such as Mr.Bones’s musical performance in the Wraith World. Seeing the continuing storyline proves a strong motivator for getting through each level.

Most levels begin with the platform jumping basics: run, jump, and if you get hit your life bar drops. But there’s a twist. As a skeleton, Mr.Bones doesn’t need to worry about life energy, but about the warped science which holds his dead bones together: skeletism. When hit, Bones both loses some skeletism and gets a bone or two knocked off. Keep taking hits, and he’ll lose both arms, even both legs, and ultimately be reduced to nothing but a hopping skull and neck vertebrae!

The good news for Mr.Bones is that the bones he loses never disappear, and there are spares throughout the levels to boot. The bad news is that the less skeletism he has, the harder it is to reattach bones and keeping them attached. You can have a full skeleton with a near empty skeletism bar, but jar him even a bit and he’ll collapse into a pile of bones. Luckily, not only are there items to replenish skeletism, but your attack siphons off skeletism from enemies.

The physics of skeletism are remarkably well done: Whether crawling forward with no legs, struggling up a wall with one arm, or hopping around on one foot, Mr.Bones handles with convincing realism. The art of holding on to more bones than your skeletism can support, or even using bones in the wrong spot(e.g. a third leg attached at the elbow) is also beautifully handled by the game engine.

Mr. Bones ScreenshotAnd really, there’s nothing quite like crawling around with half your limbs missing in desperate search for essential bones. Typically, if you take more than a hit or two without recovering skeletism and bones, it’s a downhill slope leading to game over, since getting by with missing body parts is a challenge. But this process is so distinctive and well-handled that I found the dramas of struggling and ultimately failing in Mr. Bones more fun than succeeding in most games.

On top of this, the developers threw in some ingenious level designs, such as “The Mausoleum”, where you must fend off a mob of evil skeletons crowded below you, or “Shadow Monster”, a boss who attacks not you but your shadow.
And that’s just within the platform jumping realm. Beyond that lies the likes of “Guitar Solo”, where you must improvise passionately enough to satisfy a mob of skeletons. And “Big Bones”, a bizarre variation on Breakout where you maneuver your screen-length-wide head to bump a miniaturized version of yourself into the bones you lack. And “Hall of Pane”, where a flying skeleton carries you through a series of stained glass windows; you need to sway into health refills to survive this punishment. And so on. The variety in style and genre is nothing short of astounding, and equally astounding is that every game engine in this smorgasbord works beautifully.

Mr. Bones ScreenshotThe one notable flaw is the pacing. Even the hardest platformers typically start with a cakewalk, but Mr.Bones opens with a forced scrolling level that is one of its tougher challenges. On top of that, nearly all of the longest, toughest, and (relatively speaking, mind you) driest levels are bunched towards the beginning. It’s not surprising that many give up on this game before seeing most of what it has to offer.

The challenge varies widely. At one end is “Little People’s Village”, which is almost impossible to lose. At the other is “The Icy Lake”, which takes the notion of “challenging” a little too far; it’s doable, but guaranteed to have you pulling your hair out. Thankfully, the game employs an autosave function which, for a mere 2 blocks of memory, allows you to start from any previously reached level or cutscene, which cuts down on the aggravation. And the uneven difficulty is ultimately satisfying: you have a good mix of relaxing, fun levels and ones that will test your skills to their limits.

Mr. Bones is both an utterly oddball game and one of those games that makes having a Saturn worthwhile all by itself. It is so unlike any other game that, while not everyone will love it, there isn’t any group of gamers who it can’t be recommended to.

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